house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Walking the Alto Minho

Last Sunday we went on a walk in the countryside. It was a long walk – it took all morning; we walked and walked and walked until I felt I was walking barefoot on brambles. It was a group walk – we were following a line of men in their 50s – and 60s, and 70s - who belonged to an ex-sailors' club with a weekly habit of sprinting up slopes, past sagging vineyards and along the Minho.

It was a beautiful walk – the day somber and cool, but each tree, each side of a hill, each empty meadow exuberant with colour and life. And it would have been a good walk in terms of feeling fit and virtuous, had it not ended in a gargantuan feast at the sailors' club, that eventually spit us out spent, stuffed and steaming.

This is it. No adventure, just a Sunday morning walk. This story is a bit of a non-event; to revive it, I shall tap into the family stream-of-consciousness and steal a (semi-qualified) glimpse into our thoughts.

Nikita: “Why would any sane person wake up at 7am on a Sunday morning in order to walk aimlessly around the countryside for five hours? What is the point? Oh – here we go. Someone's talking to me. Grunt. I'm hungry. How can a tangerine be enough? Is that a dead frog? How can people walk around with such horrendous haircuts... Great: my shoes are falling apart...”

Kira: “I'm the only girl on this walk, I'm the only girl on this walk! I'm an adventure girl! I didn't want to wear this jumper, I wanted my green jumper! Is that a dead frog? Cheeta, roll that apple through the ditch, oh it's floating, oh it's going fast, I'll catch it catch it CATCH IT oh it's gone. Are those chestnuts? Can I get some? Mica will carry them. And the dead frog. And the stick. No? why not? oh c'mon.. shall I give her some money?... pleaaase Mica.. oh, they're calling, we're last again, catch up, catch up, run, gasp....

Moona: “This is a bit boring, but at least we're out, we're doing something. Even Mica's walking, what's come over her? What did that guy say? Something to do with Galizia. Is he speaking Portuguese or Spanish? Or Galego? Maybe Galego. He never stops. Oh, we've stopped – is this his house? What a lovely yard. I'm thirsty – is that a drink? Glug-glug – oh-uh: it was wine! Now I'm steaming. Maybe Mica can carry the water backpack. Whoa, let's climb up those rocks.. good place to dive... why is Mica getting upset? There's no danger, unless you fall..”

Me: “Right – it's a clear morning, church bells toll, I can walk for days. Kira and I are the only girls on this walk. So glad I managed to get them out of bed. What a lovely house / corner / tree / village / church. Oh and this church has a real bell and it keeps ringing: what's going on? let me ask the guy with the stick. OK first it's the time, then it calls people to mass and then it tells everyone there's been a death in the village. Wow. All in bell-language. Can our village bell do that, I wonder – with that unchanging merry jingle... but nothing like an ice-cream van, as Moona says. OK this walk is endless, feet hurt. Phew, we're having a break. Arrgh, we're off again. What's the time?”


Wine followed and fuelled our Sunday walk. We stopped twice. At the second stop, a small farm, it was no surprise: wine glasses, chorizo and warm bread were already waiting on a table in the yard. But the first one, an indistinct side of a road? People stood munching their sandwitches, absolute silence and the morning still young when a car appeared and pulled up; out came the wine, the plastic glasses. Not a word was exchanged. The walking sailors drank and stared meditatively into warm amber leaves.

All the (other) ladies joined the group for lunch, after the walk. They came by car, wearing high heels, necklaces and perfume.

The lunch took place at an old customs post on the river Minho. The building stood at the top of a small hill, above a narrow crossing point glorified in smuggling legend. Due to its position, the post had an amazing view of the meandering Minho, from one horizon to the other, except for the crossing point itself.

This way, geography ensured that smuggling boats couldn't be seen by government agents. Small regular payments made sure that they didn't even look that way. And sacks of coffee and sugar, perhaps liqueurs and other luxury goods moved from Spain to Portugal, from Portugal to Spain as the market called. Herds of animals swam across as new owners waited on the other side to walk them home.


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